Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Eggs – Incredible?

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Rhode Island Reds in a lithograph, c. 1915.

Image via Wikipedia

In keeping with the Easter holiday coming up, we need to pay some attention  to the common egg.  Common misconceptions keep many people from eating eggs, especially those with heart disease.  So what are the latest facts about the incredible, edible egg?

First of all, eggs are about the best source of protein you can find, soundly beating beef, milk, whey, and soy.  One egg contains about 6 grams of protein found in the egg white or albumen.  There are only 71 calories in a poached or hard-cooked egg.  There are about 5 grams of total fat with only 1.6 grams of those being saturated fat.

A lot of the good stuff is in the yolk – but that is where the “nasty” cholesterol hides out.  The most common myth about eggs is that we need to avoid them because of the relatively high cholesterol content equal only to shrimp, liver, and duck.   The fact is unless you have heart disease and have been told by a doctor or nutritionist to limit your cholesterol level to lower levels than 300 mg/day (the current recommendation), there is no reason to not include the yolk with your scrambled egg.

There is actually some good news about eggs.  A new study finds that eggs are actually 14% lower in cholesterol and 64% higher in vitamin D than previously thought.  What caused this change?  Chickens have been fed healthier diets, so the old saying, “you are what you eat” also applies to them.  One large egg is still 185 mg. cholesterol, so you cannot overdo (especially with heart disease.  The only large study to look at egg consumption on heart disease (not cholesterol directly) found no association between the two.  However, there is some caution with those with diabetes.  The study also found that egg-a-day eaters were a little more likely to have developed heart disease than those who rarely ate eggs.

Eggs are an excellent source of choline.  Choline has been claimed to help prevent inflammation, liver disease and neurological disorders.

Eggs are also a good source of two carotenoids, lutein, and zeaxanthin which are thought to contribute to eye health.  One thing about these carotenoids is that they are best absorbed with some fat.  So, even though spinach is a better source of leutin, the small amount of fat in the egg makes these compounds more available to the body.  Add a little spinach to your omelets next time.

 More Nutrition Facts:

Riboflavin: 18% Daily Value

Vitamin B12: 14% Daily Value

Selenium: 29% Daily Value

Choline 25% Daily Value

What is the difference between brown and white eggs?  Chickens with white feathers and earlobes lay white and those with dark feathers and red earlobes lay brown; the nutrients are similar.  There’s one difference between brown and white eggs that you may notice at the grocery store. Chicken breeds that produce brown eggs, such as the Rhode Island Red, are larger and cost more to feed than hens that produce white eggs. So brown eggs may be a little more expensive than white, according to the Egg Nutrition Center.

What about raw eggs?  Many health enthusiasts promote eating raw eggs.  It’s not recommended because raw eggs may contain Salmonella.  In addition, protein absorption is less with raw eggs than when they are cooked.

 Bottom Line: 

  • Eggs are an excellent protein source and contain many other nutrients.
  • If you have heart disease, diabetes or very high blood cholesterol levels, eat eggs with caution.
  • Do not eat raw eggs.
  • If you are concerned about cholesterol, use egg whites or egg substitutes.
  • Try to buy eggs with the Humane Society seal; however, they may be more expensive.
  • Cage-free eggs may not actually be cage-free.  Watch for a upcoming post on this topic.
  • There is no nutritional difference between white and brown eggs.
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